Jim Wells is in the headlines again.
Betcha that’s a sentence which makes the DUP press team despair….
This time, Mr Wells has made the news for his proclamation that Sinn Fein is “not welcome” in a “unionist town.”
Mr Wells made the comments on Twitter in the aftermath of Sinn Fein election workers canvassing the small town of Rathfriland in the South Down constituency.
His (now deleted) tweet read:
Many complaints about Sinn Fein canvassing in Rathfriland yesterday. They are not welcome in this unionist town- particularly on a Sunday.
The description of Rathfriland as a “unionist town” provides some insight into the mentality of Jim Wells.
If we consult the NINIS website, which uses census data to provide an accurate representation of geographic areas, the demographic composition of Rathfriland does not seem to support Wells’ assertion.
According to the NINIS site, Rathfriland’s population is just under 40% Catholic.
If we were to employ the same logic in order to characterise cities, towns and villages from which unionist politicians should not be welcome (due to having 40% or less Protestants amongst inhabitants), then there would be no unionist canvassers welcome in Derry, Newry, Crumlin, Glenavy, Omagh, Castlederg- and, if projections are accurate, even Belfast in the next decade!
And that’s before we reflect on whether or not Mr Wells believes such ‘Nationalist’ towns should have to host Loyal Order parades….
Of course, there is a serious point in all of this.
Political party activists should be free to canvass any and all areas, and there has been tremendous progress on this front over the past 20 years as we have moved away from the conflict period.
The overwhelmingly majority nationalist village in which I reside has posters for candidates of many parties dotted along Main Street, and canvass teams from at least one of the two main unionist parties have gone door to door (as is their entitlement) in parts of the village in recent days and weeks.
Jim Wells’ comments are reflective of a mindset which seeks to dominate and exclude expressions of ‘The Other,’ seemingly opposing even the right of political parties to canvass mixed communities like Rathfriland.
The fact that he tossed in a reference to ‘Sunday’ is even more troubling…..
Sinn Fein’s South Down candidate, Chris Hazzard, did not appear deterred by the message:
“Our message of equality, rights and Irish unity was well received during our canvas yesterday in Rathfriland.
Sinn Fein will not be deterred by Jim Wells or anyone else from bringing that message to the electorate of South Down.”